Pies & Tarts

What a big month!

I resigned from my job.  Started another.  Prepared for Christmas, our special visitor and all our festive entertaining.  Oh, and somehow managed to squeeze in some Christmas baking in between!

The beginning of the month hailed the end of my job for six years.  I returned to work from maternity leave at the end of August, but quickly started to search out a part-time alternative – as the work-life balance in the Mélanger household lacked the necessary harmony, to say to least!  Fortunately, a few months later, I secured the perfect part-time alternative at a brand new company, and immediately made the switch.

But there was no time to dwell on leaving my old job, as Christmas was fast approaching.  Much to organise and prepare!

I have to say, this year has been one of my best Christmases yet, thanks to my pint-sized minature.

It may technically have been baby Melanger’s second Christmas, but it certainly felt like her first.  With bub only a few months old last year, the day came and went without much fanfare.  This year, however, was bursting with endless shrieks, giggles and laughter at the endless stream of everything ‘new’.

The tree attracted the greatest attention.  There was nonstop pointing and ‘talking’ with lots of fast hand movements.  And there were quite a number of dances in front of the tree, including the odd twirl or two for added effect.  It seems to have made quite an impression!

Our visit from bub’s Ukki, also added much to the festive cheer.  It was such a delight for baby Mélanger to meet her grandfather face-to-face for the first time, and for her Ukki to see her BIG personality first hand.

I also had a lot of fun baking up some new traditions this year.  The Joulutortut and Joulupulla were the firm favourites.  And I have no difficulty visualising baking these goodies up year after year (whilst trialing some new flavours and ideas, too!).  Many thanks again to my friend Celina Laaksonen who was an enthusiastic guide in this month’s menu.

I hope you all enjoyed the selection this month, too?  I may or may not take a little break in January, but I hope to post a new exciting theme again soon.  In the meantime, here is the round up of this month’s recipes.

:: I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday and that 2012 brings much joy and happiness to you all xxx ::

{ Joulutortut :: Finnish Christmas Stars } For some time I have greedily eyed off these tender butter pastries, simply shaped as a festive star, and dotted with a small kiss of sweet prune filling in the centre.  This recipe produces a soft, cream based pastry.  It is incredibly simple to put together, and fairly easy to work with.  These little Finnish Christmas stars got an immediate thumbs up from Mr Mélanger{ Read more here…. }


  { Jouluriisipuuro :: Finnish Rice Pudding & Joulupiparkakut :: Gingerbread } Traditionally, this Christmas rice pudding can be served alongside a dried fruit soup (sekahedelmäkeitto), and there is always a whole blanched almond hidden inside (a bit like hiding a sixpence in a Christmas pudding!).  But I could not resist sharing this combination as a tribute to Celina!  The idea is genius.  The creaminess of the pudding, goes deliciously with the spicy, crunchy gingerbread.  I particularly love the gingerbread.  As soon as you warm up the spices with the syrup, the entire kitchen starts to smell a little of Christmas.  { Read more here …. }

  { Taatelikakku :: Finnish Christmas date cake } Finland has some light, fragrant and curiously bundt shaped Christmas cakes.  Far different from my Christmas cake memories.  I selected to bake up the taatelikakku, as part of this month’s experiment.  This is a wonderfully light yet moist cake.  The addition of coffee to the mixture adds a lovely depth of flavour against the sweetness of the dates.  And in my opinion, this cake should not be reserved just for Christmas.  It is simply too delicious!  { Read more here….}

  { Joulupulla :: Finnish Christmas buns }  This is really just a basic pulla dough shaped into the special festive shape.  I have made pulla more times than I can remember, and I have ultimated adapted this recipe from a few different sources (Beatrice Ojakangas, the Nordic Bakery Cookbook plus my friend Celina Laaksonen).  My father-in-law mentioned his mother’s pulla was less sweet, but he preferred the extra sugar in this recipe.  So feel free to experiment! { Read more here….}

Experimenting with the techniques of baking an Indian flat bread (without a tandoor!).

Testing new flour blends in some gluten free baking recipes.

Playing around with a Mélanger household staple to introduce new flavours and textures to rye bread.

And daydreaming of future travel plans creating a sweet Moroccan tradition.

This month it has all been about fruits and nuts.  Each and every single recipe fundamentally relying on the clever combination of the two.

I hope you enjoyed the selection!

{ Peshwari Naan } A combination of pistachios, almonds, dried coconut and sultanas are at the centre of this popular Indian flat bread.  ‘Baked’ quickly and simply in a non-stick fry pan, you can make beautiful naan in a matter of minutes.  You could also omit the fruit and nuts and experiment with a range of other fillings.  { Read more here … }


{ Gluten free Linzertorte } Here the classic Austrian pastry is transformed by gluten free flours.  A combination of gram (chickpea) flour played the stable structure role, and then tapioca flour lightened the mixture. An interesting test of gluten free pastry.  Will not be the last, I am sure.  { Read more here … }


{ Orange date and walnut rye bread } This bread is lovely and soft and is perfect with both sweet and savoury accompaniments.  The flavour of the dates was fairly subtle so when I bake this bread again, I will eliminate the walnuts and boost up the quantity of dates – or vice versa.  The orange provided a lovely overall freshness to the bread but could be omitted if you prefer. { Read more here … }


{ M’hanncha :: Moroccan ‘snake’ cake } When cutting into this M’hanncha, the light, delicate crunch of the filo pastry is a glorious enticement.  The first taste will not disappoint either.  The texture is moist and the flavour is fragrant.  The rose water is subtle and works well with the confident citrus flavours.  Overall it is not overly sweet, which is as refreshing as the mint tea traditionally served with it! { Read more here … }


{ Raspberry lemon frangipane slice } The sweet bread dough base is much lighter than its tart dough or biscuit base counterparts, making it a more delicate sweet indulgence.  The flavours of raspberry and lemon are a classic.  The subtle almond flavoured frangipane helps retains a level of richness and moistness.  The arrangement altogether, is one very easy to eat treat.   { Read more here … }


{ Fig and raspberry hazelnut cake } A play on a Dorie Greenspan favourite.  This little fig cake is injected with ground hazelnuts, and the figs were matched with a handful of raspberries. The overall result was a very easy to make, moist and flavoursome cake that is perfect not only for autumn, but any day of the year really.  { Read more here … }



{ Gluten-free, dairy-free orange almond cake } If you are a fan of the rich, intense flavour of orange marmalade you should try this cake.  There is no hiding the essence of the core ingredient here.  It is bold and concentrated.  The cake is very moist and a delicate slice (or two) is delicious served with a coffee or tea for a bit of an afternoon pick me up.  { Read more here … }

{ Almond Berry Slice } This little nutty fruity sweet was the very first thing I baked after bringing Nina home from the hospital.  Chosen for its speed of assembly (only minutes to prepare!), and simplicity of ingredients.  There is nothing fancy or chic about this humble slice but it sure is wholesome and soul feeding – particularly knowing it is very likely to grace the lunchbox my baby daughter in years to come.  { Read more here … }



{ Bakewell Tart } This tart is very easy to make.  It is essentially a very simple sweet short crust pastry, topped with jam and then a deliciously rich frangipane (almond paste).  I made this tart with blackberry jam, but would love to experiment further.  Perhaps create little individual tarts next time that showcase a variety of flavours.  { Read more here … }

What a baking journey this has been!

This month I ventured into (very!) unfamiliar baking territory and discovered egg free, dairy free, gluten free, and nut free ingredients and recipes.

Wheat flour was replaced with potato flour, soya flour, tapoica flour, rice flour.  Butter was replaced by vegetable/canola oils, dairy free spreads or vegetable shortening.  Egg was replaced by a heated flour/water thickening technique.

I have not even scratch the surface of all the possibilities, but I am glad I have challenged myself to bake with some new ingredients and food substitutions.  To give myself a greater appreciation of what people with allergies face every day.

Thank you to everyone that also trialed some of these recipes – appears as though the Dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free oat crunch biscuits (aka ‘Arnotts Kingstons’) were not just a hit in my household!  (Hint, hint….)

Big thank you as well for some of the other great ingredient substitution and technique ideas.  I am blown away by the wealth of ‘allergy-free’ knowledge out there.  It really is such a specialised area of baking.

Here is a round up of the recipes I tackled this month, plus a few from the archives that are more allergy-free by way of omission rather than substitution.

{ Dairy-free, egg-free brownies } This recipe highlights dairy-free and egg-free baking techniques. These brownies are sweet, rich, and chocolately.  They are moist in the centre and have a lovely crusty surface.  And best of all, they are a snap to bake.  5 minutes preparation and 25 minutes baking.  Simple. { Read more here … }

{ Gluten-free, dairy-free fig jam tarts } This recipe highlights a favourite of mine.  Pastry.  Just a simple tart pastry.  I adapted a previously used pastry recipe and switched out regular flour for a gluten-free flour mix, and used vegetable shortening to replace butter. The pastry seemed to work but warning … it is much more fragile than regular wheat pastry.  { Read more here … }

{ Dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free oat crunch biscuits } You must bake a batch (or two!) of these biscuits. For me, these biscuits are an example of how you do not have to sacrifice taste, flavour and texture, to accommodate an allergy.  If you have not already, I hope you bake some for yourself, very soon!  { Read more here … }

{ Gluten-free, dairy-free orange almond cake } If you are a fan of the rich, intense flavour of orange marmalade you should try this cake.  There is no hiding the essence of the core ingredient here.  It is bold and concentrated.  The cake is very moist and a delicate slice (or two) is delicious served with a coffee or tea for a bit of an afternoon pick me up.  { Read more here … }

{ Chocolate Chunk Coconut Macaroons } Gluten-free and dairy-free.  These little hay-stacked cookies are a simple little biscuit perfect for a sweet indulgence any time of day.  They are simple and quick to make.  The perfect allergy-free Petits fours to whip up at a moment’s notice.  { Read more here … }

{ Calisson d’Aix}  Gluten-free and dairy-free.  Calisson d’Aix is a speciality of Aix-en-Provence.  A tiny diamond shaped sweet, made with ground almonds and candied fruits and finished with white royal icing.  They are traditionally served with coffee after dessert.  A lovely little treat. { Read more here … }

Chocolate chestnut cake small{ Chocolate chestnut cake } Gluten-free.  This cake is dense and rich, but not too sweet. More appropriately a dessert cake rather than afternoon tea cake. But in saying that, it certainly it is quick to prepare and bake.  Recommend serving a healthy dollop (or two!) of thick cream.  { Read more here … }

Triple chocolate macarons small

{ Triple Chocolate Macarons } Gluten-free.  Chocolate is my ultimate weakness in the world.  Thus, in honour of the chocolate macaron, I create a triple chocolate macaron treat.  A chocolate macaron shell, filled with a bittersweet chocolate ganache, and a healthy dusting of cocoa to finish.  { Read more here … }

I have never baked with gluten-free flour before.

When I starting reading about gluten-free flour substitutions for the theme this month, I was overwhelmed.  Very quickly I uncovered a range of different flours people use in substitution for standard wheat flour – potato flour, rice flour, tapioca flour, soya flour.

And, even more interestingly, I discovered that people had their favourite blend and mix of these flours to achieve a certain result.  I was so impressed by all the baking trial and error that obviously had gone into finding those special combinations.

But these are all new considerations for me, someone who lives unaffected by allergies.

For my ‘Allergy-free baking‘ month, I wanted to include a favourite of mine.  Pastry.  Just a simple tart pastry.  I looked to adapt a previously used pastry recipe and switch out regular flour for a gluten-free flour mix, and use vegetable shortening to replace butter.  I figured that would be a good place to start in this gluten-free voyage.

I admittedly did not find making this pastry that easy.  The texture and consistency of the pastry was significantly different, and much more delicate and fragile to handle.  But, with an injection of patience, I managed to create some sweet fig jam tarts.

This is turning out to be an interesting (and educational!) baking journey.

{ Gluten-free, dairy-free fig tarts } adapted from Star Topped Mince Pies by Nigella Lawson

* Ingredients *
1 1/2 cups of gluten free flour
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
Zest of 1/2 orange
Juice of 1 small orange
½ cup fig jam
Gluten free icing sugar for dusting, optional

* Directions *
Measure the flour out into a shallow bowl or dish, and using a teaspoon, dollop in little mounds of shortening.  Add the zest.  Combine with your hands and put in the freezer for 20 minutes.  Measure out the orange juice and put in the refrigerator.  Empty out the flour and fat into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until you have a pale pile of oatmeal-like crumbs.  Add the juice down the funnel, pulsing till it looks as if the dough is about to cohere; you want to stop just before it does (even if some orange juice is left).  If all your juice is used up and you need more liquid, add some iced water.  Turn out of the processor and, in your hands, combine to a dough.  Then form into two discs.  Wrap each in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator to rest for 20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 220/425.  Roll out the discs one at a time as thinly as you can without exaggerating.  Out of each rolled out disc cut out circles.  Press these circles gently into moulds and dollop in a scant teaspoon of jam.  Then cut out your stars and place them lightly on top.  Re-roll pastry as required.  Bake pies for 8-10 minutes.  Cool on a rack and dust with icing sugar (optional) before serving.

Makes 2 dozen finished pies

Rhubarb is synonymous with English desserts.  Growing up, I recall my mother creating a number of desserts that incorporated rhubarb.  Not to the extent that I eventually had to throw a hand to cover my eyes, and gesture any oncoming fruit ladened dish away, but to know that this humble fruit was versatile, practical and a hint towards winter.

Given its tart flavour, rhubarb adapts well when cooked with sweet fruits such as apples and strawberries.  It also loves to be spiked with a little hint of spice, be it cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger.  Stewed, in a pie or made into a delicious jam, the strength of the rhubarb will ensure it remains popular for quite some time.

As soon as I decided on ‘British Desserts’ month, the idea of including rhubarb and a crumble was fait accompli, in a way.  But knowing the rhubarb crumble was a dish many had already seen, how could I give it a little Mélanger twist?  Just a little ….

I originally decided to sweetened my rhubarb with orange, and add some uncrystallised ginger for a little zing.  But after walking by my local fruit store recently, and catching the subtle aroma of the new season strawberries, I knew the orange had to be parked.  (Just for a while.)  So rhubarb, strawberry and ginger was decided!

Given the weather has cooled here slightly, I was also itching to make some pastry.  In particular, a zesty cream cheese pastry that complements fruit fillings perfectly.  But I admittedly did hesitate.  The crumble apparently was created as a way to compensate for war time rationing in Britain.  A way to replace the impossible quantities of flour, butter and sugar required to make a traditional sweet pastry shell, but still provide some melt in your mouth, buttery texture.  The traditional crumble topping, using just a fraction of the very same ingredients (note – no oats included), was the clever solution.

Although this crumble tart, with its rich pastry casing, really defies the idea of the humble crumble, I create this dish in celebration how blessed I am to not face the same rationing that sparked its origins.

Enjoy.  Cheers!

{ Rhubarb, strawberry & ginger crumble tarts } Original recipe by Julia @ Mélanger

Plan ahead and almost on a whim, you can produce this tart, bubbling with hot, delicious fruit, in a snap.  The pastry can be made ahead, and the good news is it does not need to be blind baked.

Baking uncooked rhubarb allows some shape to be retained through the cooking process, but still provides a soft texture.  Switch the strawberries for apples if you choose.  And feel free to omit the ginger.

It also would not be a British dessert without a serving of homemade custard on the side.  Recipe follows.

* Ingredients *
1 ½ cups of plain flour
½ cup caster sugar
125g / 1 stick of cold, unsalted butter, cut into small squares
240g / 8 oz cream cheese, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon chilled ice water
600g / 20oz rhubarb, cut into small chunks
300g / 10oz strawberries, quartered
45g / 1 ½ oz uncrystallised ginger
2 tablespoons cornflour / cornstarch
¼ cup sugar
1 cup flour
¼ cup sugar
125g / 1 stick of cold, unsalted butter cut into smalls squares

* Directions *
For the pastry, combine the flour and sugar into a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine.  Next add the butter and pulse gently until the mixture starts to resemble very coarse breadcrumbs.  Immediately add the cream cheese and blend until the pastry starts to come away from the sides.  Add the chilled ice water as needed to bring the pastry together.  On a floured board, knead the pastry gently into a ball.  Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  For the filling combine the rhubarb, strawberries and ginger into a bowl.  Add in the cornflour and sugar and combine well.  Set aside.  For the crumble, mix the flour and sugar into a bowl.  Using a pastry cutter, or the tips of your fingers, blend in the butter so you achieve a very rough texture.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.  To prepare the tarts, divide the pastry into six equal portions.  Roll out each piece separately to measure larger than the size of your tart tins.  Cut a neat circle and line the tin with the pastry.  When all six are completed, pile in the fruit mixture remembering that as the fruit cooks, it will reduce in volume – so be generous in your portions.  Finally, liberally spread over the crumble mixture to fully coat each tart.  Pop the tarts onto a baking tray and bake in the centre of the oven for 45-50 minutes.

Makes 6 mini tarts

{ Vanilla Custard } Original recipe by Julia @ Mélanger

* Ingredients *
¾ cup milk
¾ cup heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

* Directions *
Prepare a bowl filled with ice and top the ice with another clean bowl.  Put to the side together with a fine sieve.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.  Set aside.  Gently heat the milk, cream and vanilla in a saucepan until small bubbles appear around the edges.  Remove from the heat, and add ½ cup of the mixture to the eggs whisking together immediately.  When blended, add the egg mixture back to the milk over a low to medium heat.  Keep whisking as the mixture starts to thicken.  Be careful not to overheat the mixture or the eggs will curdle.  For accuracy, measure the temperature and remove from the heat when you reach 80C /176F.  Without delay, pour the hot custard through the sieve into the prepare bowl.  The ice will help cool down the custard and ensure it does not overheat.  Allow to cool, and then refrigerate.

Makes 1 ½ cups

The idea of having an ulterior motive sounds so clandestine.  So underhanded.  But I must admit, my research into Finnish desserts this month was just that.

Naturally, I am fascinated in Mr Melanger’s Finnish ancestry.  Not only because his makeup and personality is very much predisposed by that background, but it impacts me directly, too.  Well, when I use his last name it does at least.  It is always an amusing scenario where I am faced by a quizzical stare and an immediate request of, “how do you spell that?”

Who you are is shaped by so many influences.  For me, it is important to appreciate, celebrate and understand those very persuasions.

Growing up a first generation Australian, alongside parents and a sister that migrated from England, afforded me a reasonably unique identity.  Not only the extensive British influence of my immediate and past family ties, but the custom and tradition of my new country of birth.  This blend has made me who I am.

I want to follow the role that my parents played in sharing their heritage with me.  I want to play an active role in sharing everything relevant with baby Mélanger … who is on the way!

Baby Mélanger, with their inherent Finnglish connections, will learn about their lineage, no question.  Finland.  England.  And naturally, Australia, of course.

In preparation of the big (or hopefully little) arrival of baby Mélanger in September, I will continue to research, learn and experiment with my baking and cooking.

In the meantime, here is a roundup of the Finnish desserts created this month, plus some other delicious Finnish treats that I am sure will now become even more popular in the Mélanger soon-to-be-expanded home.

{ Mustikkapiirakka :: Blueberry Tart } This simple, rustic style tart is a snap to make and a treat to share.  The blueberries piled high look as inviting as they are delicious.  The simplicity of the tart is the winning secret.  Fresh berries sweetened ever so slightly with a sprinkling of sugar, and topped on an easy to prepare, flaky pastry.  Perfect for any time of year.  { Read more here … }

{ Sekahedelmäkeitto :: Mixed fruit soup } The warm, aromatic aroma of the cinnamon is so alluring and while you are heating the sugary syrup.  Your whole kitchen will permeate with this sweet-spicy smell.  The gentle cooking produces fruit that is both sweet and deliciously soft.  It is equally tasty by itself, or made even more special by the addition of cream, or served alongside creamed rice.  { Read more here … }

{ Åland Pancake } If you enjoy the baked custardy taste of the Far Breton, the quintessential flan from Brittany, you will love the Åland Pancake.  It is creamy, dense and very smooth  – and just perfect with a dollop of lingonberry jam, a staple in this region of the world.  { Read more here … }

{ Rahkatorttu :: Karelian Cheese Torte } Vary the recipe as your tastes please.  Include raisins or fruit into the filling.  Use cream or butter to make the cheese even more rich.  Vary the cheese with cream cheese or cottage cheese if you cannot find quark.  Either way, it will be easy, simple yet flavourful – particularly when served with a healthy dollop of cloudberry jam!   { Read more here … }

{ Omenapiirakka :: Finnish Apple Pie } You need to try this pie.  The best part for me was how easy the pastry was to make.  And even better than that, how delicious it was.  I actually made the pastry a day ahead and was able to quickly roll out, top with apple and then bake in less than 45 minutes.  To keep it simple, I served with a light dusting of icing sugar and some rich vanilla ice cream to complement the gooey caramelised apple centre of the pie.  { Read more here … }

{ Karjalanpiirakat :: Karelian Rice Pasties } The pastry was quite easy to make.  It literally mixed together by hand in less than 5 minutes.  The filling is the most time consuming part taking an hour to slowly simmer.  But well worth the time.  Try with a boiled eggs topping, for the most perfect of snacks.   { Read more here … }

{ Hannatädinkakut :: Aunt Hanna’s Cookies } These simple and quick cookies are a Finnish favourite at holiday time.  They are apparently very popular, and according to Beatrice Ojakangas, can be found in supermarkets across Finland all year round.  One taste, and I was a big fan.  They are light and buttery but not too rich.  The little bite size makes them perfect for a little treat during the day.  I also think they make lovely homemade gifts, too!  { Read more here … }

{ Cardamom macarons with coffee cream} My tribute to Finland.  The Finns are reported to be the largest coffee drinkers in the world.  Cardamom is a very common spice used in Finnish (and Scandinavian) baking.  I love the flavours of both so put together this combination.  And let me just say, I am in macaron heaven.  { Read more here … }

{ Pulla :: Finnish cardamom bread } Pulla was the first item I baked for my (now) husband.  After much searching for the perfect recipe, I took the plunge with my Beatrice Ojakangas baking bible.  When I was told the bread tasted, “just like my mummo used to make”, I knew I had chosen well.   { Read more here … }

{ Mustikkapiiraat :: Blueberry filled buns } These buns are a snap to make and smell wonderful coming out of the oven.  You may clap your hands in delight (as I did) when seeing the gooey berry drizzle running down the side of a bun or two.  It will be hard to wait for them to cool slightly so you can devour them.  { Read more here … }

With a busy, non-stop weekend chock full of errands, major furniture assembly/removal/moving, tidying and organising, there was nothing more ideal than a sweet pick-me-up to restore those rapidly depleted energy stores.

Enter the Mustikkapiirakka, or Finnish Blueberry Tart.

With my mother as a willing kitchen participant (and the most organised helper over the weekend!), I prepared this moreish tart for a delicious morning tea treat for all to share.

Can you imagine anything more perfect to replenish a tired body?

{ Mustikkapiirakka :: Blueberry Tart }

I have seen a few different approaches to the pastry.  Some recipes included cream (a deliciously light, melt-in-your-mouth pastry I am familiar with in Finnish baking), some recipes included sour cream, and others simply a basic flour, sugar, butter combination.

I elected to celebrate the simple style of the tart, but with my own favourite flaky pastry recipe.  For the filling, I loaded up on blueberries and kept the flavour unadulterated with the addition of only sugar for extra sweetness and potato flour to help absorb excess juices from the berries.  This version is my variation on the Mustikkapiirakka.

If you know of the Mustikkapiirakka, I would love to hear about the technique you use.

* Ingredients *
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
250g / 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and frozen
1/3 cup iced water
600g / 20oz blueberries
2 tablespoons potato flour
2/3 cup sugar

* Directions *
For the dough, mix the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor to combine.  Add the butter and pulse gently to roughly incorporate into the flour mixture.  Do not over mix – it is fine to have some butter chunks showing.  Again pulsing the processor, slowly add in the iced water until the dough starts to come together.  Once again, do not over mix.  Tip the dough out onto a floured board and gently knead for a few seconds to bring together.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  When you are ready to bake the tarts, remove the pastry from the refrigerator, cut into two even pieces and allow to soften slightly.  In the meantime, prepare the blueberry mixture.  Combine the blueberries, potato flour and sugar in a bowl.  Set aside.  To prepare the pastry, roll out each piece into a 30 cm / 12 in circle.  Trim to neaten edges using a dinner plate as a guide if necessary.  Line two baking sheets with baking paper.  Place a piece of prepared pastry on each.  Top each with one half of the prepared mixture.  Chill the prepared tarts for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.  Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 2 tarts

Do you enjoy research?  I find the process fascinating – particularly when you have limited, to zero!, established understanding on a subject.

With an end goal in mind, you firstly try to read as broadly as you can to understand the subject.  You file little nuggets of detail away as you read.  Those details seem random at first, but as you continue you start to connect the dots.  Then, with again no (or limited!) knowledge on the subject, you try to assess the usefulness of the information you have found.

I typically find myself “looping” here quite a bit (more reading and then more assessing), mostly when I am unsatisfied with what I have dug up.  There is some instant elimination of information or enthusiastic ticking for future use along the way.

This has essentially been the process for me to delve into ‘Finnish dessert’ month.

Starting from a very limited knowledge base, I attempted to come up with an authentic list of Finnish desserts.  This was particularly challenging given Finnish cuisine is not the most popular globally.  Finding references in English were few and fair in between – compared with more popular cuisines such as French, Italian and Spanish.

But determination is a wonderful thing.  And even though the research process took longer than originally anticipated, I managed to create a short list of ideas.

The first dessert that made the list was the Karelian Cheese Torte, or more commonly known in Finnish as Rahkatorttu.

I am familiar with the Karelian area of Finland.  Mr Melanger’s father grew up in the city of Lappeenranta, which is situated in South Karelia between the southern banks of Saimmaa lake and the border with Russia.

In the food stakes, the Karelian Rice Pastry was one of first Finnish items I baked trying to familiarise myself with the unique food of this area.  This Karelian Cheese Torte is the second – and given the significance of the area, hence being first on the list for the month!

{ Rahkatorttu :: Karelian Cheese Torte }

I came across quite a number of recipes in my research.  Some included raisins, some were baked with fruit.  Some fillings incorporated cream or butter.  Some fillings were focused heavily just on the cheese.  The cheese also varied.  Some used cream cheese, some cottage cheese, some curd/quark.  But knowing the word “rahka” in Finnish is “quark”, I figured that would be the best way to go.  (Also, it was about time I finally baked with quark after all the inspiration I have received from Deeba at Passionate about Baking!)

This version is my variation on the Rahkatorttu.  Plain, simple yet flavourful – particularly when served with a healthy dollop of cloudberry jam!

If you know of the Rahkatorttu, I would love to hear about the technique you use.

* Ingredients *
2 cups of plain all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 cup of caster sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, extra cold and cut into small cubes
1 extra large egg
380g Quark
1/4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 extra large eggs

* Directions *
Butter a 20cm (8 inch) springform tin.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).  In a food processor quickly mix the flour, baking powder and sugar together.  Add the butter and pulse until you achieve the consistency of chunky breadcrumbs.  Finally, add the egg to bind.  The pastry should be fairly crumbly.  Gently pat the pastry into the prepared tin distributing evenly in sections.  Set the pastry aside and prepare the filling.  In a large bowl, whisk together the quark and sugar until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and eggs and whisk until well combined.  Pour the filling into the pastry and bake for 40-50 minutes.  After 40 minutes start checking.  You want the centre to be just set and firm-ish to the touch.  Cool, and serve with cloudberry jam, or any fruit of choice.

This month, I injected a few traditional savoury ingredients into typical sweet dishes.  As a conservative baker, I challenged myself to take some classic recipes and twist them to introduce some unusual flavour combinations — I was curious how far I would experiment with solid, timeless dishes.

Tried and true recipes such as apple pie, chocolate mousse, shortbread, and crème brûlée were given a flavour make-over.  Enter rosemary, fennel, Chinese five spice, and coriander that featured in the line up this month.

Want more savoury flavours?  How about basil, thyme, pepper and salt?  These usually savoury ingredients were the focus of a citrus tart, chocolate brownie, gingerbread cookie, and caramel chocolate cupcake showcased previously on Mélanger.

Here is the round up for the month. I hope you enjoyed your own experiments in the baking kitchen!

{ Coriander spiced apple pie } Although cinnamon and apple go hand in hand, a temporary substitution made for a surprisingly delicious flavor combination.  The nutty, spicy and rather citrusy flavour of ground coriander pairs unpredictably well with apple in these modest little pies.  { read more here … }

{ Chinese five spice chocolate mousse } For me, there is nothing like chocolate to soothe an unsettled soul.  In this case, a Chinese five spice chocolate mousse.  Inspired by a Belinda Jeffery rich chocolate cake showcasing the same spice these little aromatic pots were a delicious spin on the usual.  { read more here … }

{ Fennel & olive oil shortbread } The rich, sandy texture of the shortbread is preserved despite the variations.  The fennel flavour is prominent as soon as you take a bite.  The olive oil flavour comes through at the end.  It is subtle, but there.  This shortbread sure does lend itself well to different flavours. { read more here … }

{ Rosemary & orange crème brûlée } Rosemary was infused into the cream before making the basic custard for the brûlée.  The zest of one orange was also folded into the final mixture.  The injection of a less traditionally sweet flavour balanced the incredibly rich brûlée.  The end result was a typical creamy brûlée, with subtle suggestions of pine and some zing.  { read more here … }

{ Lime-Basil Tart } The traditional citrus tart is given a twist with the addition of fresh basil.  The fragrance from the basil is subtle but brings out the zesty overtones of the limes.  These flavours pair especially well with a basic sweet tart pastry.  { read more here … }

{ Thyme Brownie } This is the ultimate brownie recipe.  The end result is chewy with the right about of ‘bite’.  The slight variation with the thyme was subtle.  It produced a slightly earthy aroma to the rich, chocolately flavor of the brownie.  If you are a fan of a brownie that is not too cakey, and not too fudgey, this is a must try for you.  { read more here … }

{ Pfeffernussen } Pfeffernussen means ‘pepper nut’ in German.  This cookie features pepper (but no nuts!), and a range of spices such as cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg and cloves.  The light sugary coating of the cookie complements the peppery flavour deliciously. They are incredibly airy and light, and have a beautiful peppery flavour.   { read more here … }

{ Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes } The salted caramel harmoniously melds with the rich chocolate cake and dark chocolate frosting.  Lightly sprinkled to finish, the grey flakes look misleadingly innocent.  When you savour the taste, the flavour faintly lingers urging you to immediately go back for more.  { read more here … }

It is a perfectly normal reflex.  When baking a homemade apple pie, you reach for cinnamon.  No?  I think it is safe to say that cinnamon is intrinsically connected with the humble apple pie.  So it was a hard decision to temporarily disregard this natural food pairing for my final item during savoury sweets month.

The nutty, spicy and rather citrusy flavour of ground coriander was my spice of choice instead when putting together these modest little pies.

Apple holds up very well to the addition of flavours, and I must (surprisingly!) admit it took to this little substitution with much enthusiasm.  The end result was a lovely combination of tart apple, a punch of spice with subtle citrus overtones to round out the flavour.

It would be hard for me to walk by cinnamon once more in any future apple pie efforts, but I enjoyed the experiment.

{ Coriander spiced apple pies } Original recipe by Julia @ Mélanger

If you do not overwork the pastry, you will be rewarded with a perfect flaky, buttery pastry that melts in your mouth.

* Ingredients *
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
250g / 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and frozen
1/3 cup iced water
800g / 28oz canned baking apple
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground coriander
Milk, to brush pastry
Sugar, to sprinkle on pastry

* Directions *
For the dough, mix the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor to combine.  Add the butter and pulse gently to roughly incorporate into the flour mixture.  Do not over mix – it is fine to have some butter chunks showing.  Again pulsing the processor, slowly add in the iced water until the dough starts to come together.  Once again, do not over mix.  Tip the dough out onto a floured board and gently knead for a few seconds to bring together.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  In the meantime, prepare the apple mixture.  Combine the canned apple, flour and spice in a bowl.  Set aside.  To prepare the pastry, remove from the refrigerator and cut into eight even pieces.  Roll out each piece larger than your individual pastry cases.  Line the base of each pastry case with the prepared dough so there is a little overhang.  Top each with one quarter of the prepared mixture.  Brush around the edges of the pastry with milk.  Then layer the pies with a final circle of pastry.  Crimp the edges of each pastry layer together.  Chill the prepared pies for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.  Place pies on baking tray and brush with more milk and sprinkled sugar.  Cut vents in the centre of the pies and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 4 individual pies

Next Page »